Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Review: The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life by Lyndsy Spence

Quite the most delightful book release of the season is Lyndsy Spence's The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life. Each afternoon these past few days, at around three, I revived the gilt-rimmed bone china, poured Darjeeling (lemon no milk), nibbled digestives (but no dunking) - a faintly-quaintly sensurround of this kind is recommended for added enjoyment of the book - and lapped up the wisdom filleted from the extraordinary lives of the six aristocratic sisters, aka the Mitford Girls.

As 4,000 One Direction fans fill Leicester Square (as I write) for the boy band's film premier, what could these poor screaming wretches learn, say, from the chapter, Fan Devotion: A Cautionary Tale? Unity Mitford's adoration of Hitler provides the lesson. 'When one sits behind him,' she noted of Hitler, 'it's like sitting beside the sun. He gives out rays or something.' To fanatical Directioners - as One Direction fans are termed - Spence might offer this advice, based on Unity's sly stalking of the F├╝hrer: 'Don't rush head first into an encounter with your idol as this will label you as another fan. Edge your way in slowly and discreetly.' 

Play your cards right and you, too, could end up as Mrs Harry Styles.

There is no end of advice on all range of activity. Letter-writing the Mitford way? 'If you are sick, make a conscious effort to bake the letter in the oven as this will kill any lingering germs.' However, 'if you dislike the person you are writing to, by all means feel free to send the germs as well as your love.'

And should you desire to run away, as Leftie Jessica did, this nugget shines among many others: 'Open a bank account as soon as possible.'

Prepare to enter a world with its own language. 'Farve' and 'Muv' are translatable - Farve, by the way, could not abide jam running down the side of the jar. 'Wondair' is rather baffling. Does it mean 'wonderful'? Well you'll have to read the book. There are 'Hons' and 'Counter-Hons'. Beyond the cod advice, Spence immerses us in Mitford miscellanea. Muv, for instance, is buried unembalmed in Swinbrook, Oxfordshire. Not wondair!

This is a clever book indeed. Its self-help pose could herald the start of a whole series of books which turn celebrity lives into bullet-pointed parables, without the tiresome linear corset of traditional biography, birth to death to seance. At the same time, this new tribute genre permits author and reader a good biscuity wallow in the adored life. Fact and goss are savoured, played with, re-presented. If I didn't know better, I would say Lyndsy Spence - who bears an uncanny resemblance to Katie McGrath's Morgana in BBC series Merlin - must be some kind of benign stalker, the fan who will not boil the bunny, drawn to glamorous enclaves for a painless poke around.

The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life tickled me from start to end. And Madame is not easily tickled.

The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life can be bought here.

Madame Arcati's interview with Lyndsy Spence, here.

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